A Birmingham barrister earned more than #1 million in legal aid last year, it was revealed today.
Ministry of Justice figures on legal aid payments showed Balbir Singh, head of Birmingham’s Equity Chambers, was paid #1,116,000 in 2005/06.
Because he is not among the elite 10% with Queen’s Counsel status, Mr Singh is technically known as a junior.
The second-highest paid was Nigel Lithman QC, who received #978,000 in legal aid, followed by John C Rees QC, with #947,000.
The sums do not represent the barristers’ personal earnings in any one year because the work may have taken place over a number of years, VAT is paid on the sums and they have to pay overheads.
Four of the 10 top-earning criminal barristers were from the same chambers - 2 Bedford Row in London.
The chambers’ Mr Lithman, William Clegg QC, Jim Sturman QC and Howard Godfrey QC had a combined pay-out of #3.3 million.
The Ministry of Justice also disclosed figures for the first time on legal aid paid to firms of solicitors.
Tuckers Solicitors was the highest paid criminal firm, receiving #8.5 million in the year from the Legal Aid purse. They were followed by Irwin Mitchell (#5.3 million) and Burton Copeland (#5 million).
In a separate list of community legal service firms - carrying out non-criminal work - the highest paid was Duncan Lewis Solicitors with just under #7 million followed by Irwin Mitchell with #5.2 million.
Again, the sums paid to firms may cover work over a period of years.
The legal aid totals paid out to barristers and solicitors’ firms were #1.2 billion for criminal cases and #620 million for civil cases.
Last July the Government announced fundamental changes to the legal aid system which would mean "the end of #1 million-a-year criminal defence barristers".
Government trouble-shooter Lord Carter of Coles outlined 62 recommendations for radical changes in the way solicitors and barristers are paid in England and Wales.
Criminal legal aid costs could be cut by 20% over four years, freeing up more than #100 million a year to be redirected to the under-funded areas of civil and family law, Lord Carter said.
He added: "We would like to see the end of the one million-a-year criminal defence barrister."